EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 22, 2012

Haverhill startup firm competition announced

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — The city, along with local business leaders and Northern Essex Community College, will launch a competition to promote the benefits of doing business in Haverhill.

Lightspeed Manufacturing, a local circuit board developer with an international client base, is leading the effort.

Hardware startup companies with creative ideas and limited resources are invited to enter the Lightspeed Challenge. The competition is modeled after MassChallenge, an annual $1 million global startup competition and accelerator program. The Lightspeed Challenge is being held in partnership with local government groups, business organizations and Northern Essex Community College.

The winner will receive up to a half dozen free printed circuit board versions of the idea, culminating with a working prototype. Finalists will share $10,000 in cash, access to Lightspeed’s design services and production facility, access to free and discounted work space at the Burgess Business Center Incubatorlocated in the Burgess Building in downtown Haverhill, and free consultation and connections to supply chain resources for production.

Everyone who enters the competition will receive free workshops and mentoring on topics such as business, finance, marketing, and technology.

“Our goal is to lower the barrier for hardware startups by providing contestants with a wide range of services and incentives to enhance their chance for success,” said John Michitson, president of the City Council and an electrical engineer with the MITRE Corporation.

Michitson said while software startup competitions are fairly common, hardware competitions are rare.

“The next best thing in Silicon Valley may be hardware,” he said. “A lot of people believe hardware is the new frontier.”

Contest organizers hope to attract 15 to 20 contestants and believe the sky is the limit as far as ideas. Some recent hardware innovations include a lockable and encrypted USB drive, a guitar with an integrated iPhone that anyone can play, a touch screen tablet “carputer,” sensors in a smart phone, and clothes that monitor location, context and environment.

Lightspeed and other challenge organizers said they want to spread the word about Haverhill and the benefits it offers entrepreneurs and emerging businesses in any market.

Rich Breault, President of Lightspeed Manufacturing, said the city, the business community and Northern Essex Community College have built a culture of support that enables entrepreneurs and businesses to thrive.

“We have a close relationship of successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, financiers, marketing executives and technology leaders who are open to mentoring others,” Breault said. “It’s now Lightspeed’s turn to give back to the community.”

Partners in the Lightspeed Challenge include the Greater Haverhill Foundation, Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, the city of Haverhill, the Burgess Business Center, Round Rock Consulting, Exultium, USAi.net, MassChallenge and Northern Essex Community College.

Details about the challenge, including a preview of the application and the contest timeline, are available online at lightspeedchallenge.blogspot.com.

Application deadline is Oct. 15. Finalists will be selected in November, followed by mentoring and development in Lightspeed’s manufacturing center and the Burgess Business Center incubator. Final judging is scheduled for April 13.

More information is available from Michitson at michitson@mitre.org or 339-221-2276.